This is the first of two stories on medical evacuation insurance
Betsy Donley of Phoenix-based Camelback Odyssey Travel had been selling medical evacuation services since she started in business more than 20 years ago, partly because she sells a lot of adventure travel to out-of-the-way places.
But four years ago, Donley found herself on a private plane being rushed from a Utah ski resort to her home hospital in Phoenix to be treated for poisoning caused by a medication she had been taking.
“If it hadn’t been for MedjetAssist [the medical evacuation company she used] I might not be here today,” she said.
Kelly Shea, who owns Kelly Shea Travels in Carmel, Ind. was in Split, Croatia when she tripped on a cobblestone and crashed into the window of a jewelry store “pulverizing” the humerus bone in her arm.
She made her way to Dubrovnik where with the help of Medjet she was assigned a nurse who accompanied her all the way back to her home hospital in Indianapolis.
The medical evacuation option
For obvious reasons, these two travel agents are now passionate advocates of medical evacuation coverage, which is not actually insurance but is sold on a “membership “ basis.
The cost of being flown home either on a private jet or in a premium class with medical accompaniment is prohibitively expensive so the relatively nominal fees for medical evacuation coverage is appealing to many.
While selling trip insurance is a standby for many agents, the option of selling separate medical evacuation product is less common.
Medical evacuation is often part of a comprehensive travel insurance program.
But while many travel insurance policies offer medical treatment and/or evacuation as an option, that frequently involves medical care at the destination or transport to a nearby hospital.
“Most travel insurance programs have an evacuation assistance program that will move the patient to the nearest appropriate medical facility,” according to Phillip White, vice president-sales for MedjetAssist.
“Medjet goes one step further and returns the traveler to the hospital of their choice.”
Sales to agents
White said agents sell a significant percentage of its policies, especially to leisure travelers.
While a traveler has to be more than 150 miles from home to use the service, a full 50% of all transport is done within the U.S. While per-trip insurance is available, many travelers find it more economical to buy an annual policy.
Not every medical crisis involves a private jet – as Donley used. “If it is medically feasible for a patient, we might have a medical escort on a common carrier,” said White.
Considering the cost of medical evacuation, costs are reasonable, according to White.
“To bring somebody back from Africa is a six figure expense. The only thing a member pays is the membership fee -- $270 for an individual, $395 for families on an annual basis. The fee for an eight-day trip is $99,” he said.
Medjet has to be certain a bed is available at the hospital of choice before a plane leaves the ground, according to White.
That involves coordinating with the traveler’s local doctor, sometimes using a translation service. It’s “bed to bed service. We go to great lengths to make the travel agent who sells this look good,” White said.
Agent commission on the coverage is 20% (10% for renewals), which can add up if sold to a solid percentage of clients.
“Agents who sell this product,” said White, “usually have a high level of touch with their clients and want to take care of them. We have some agents who will buy this on their own for their best clients.”
Next time: Agents’ take on medical evacuation insurance